Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Wilkins M. Villanueva, Bureau of Customs (BOC) Commissioner Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero, other officials and employees, and private individuals have been charged criminally in connection with the 2019 “tapioca starch” shipment which contained billions of pesos worth of illegal drugs.
The complaint was filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday, Feb. 24, by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) after conducting a probe.
In its complaint, the NBI charged Guerrero, BOC Deputy Commissioner Raniel Ramiro, former PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino with violation of Section 4(c) of Republic Act No. 6713, the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and Employees.
At the same time, Villanueva, Ramiro and Aquino were charged with violations of Section 3(e) of RA 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Also charged with graft were Joel Plaza, Aldrin Albarino, Jigger Montallana, Melvin Estoque, Mark Malibiran, Judith Rigo, Dorcas Repolles, Noilan Avila, Mark Espiritu, Marc Anthony Marero, Cesar Carlo Bilowan, Alejandro Noble, Kathryn Joy Dionio, Koden Dario, Ivy Joy Nitura, Vincent Puti and Rory Dela Torre.
Nitura and Puti were also charged with violations of Section 27 of RA 10863, the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act.
The NBI said that all the PDEA and BOC officials and employees should be charged administratively with grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
It also said that said Aquino, Guerrero, and Ramiro should be charged additionally with serious dishonesty.
Criminal charges for violations of RA 9165, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, were filed against PDEA personnel Daniel Martinez, Mark Erick Espiritu, and Lester Matobago, and private individuals Muktasil Abundol Asimuddin, Alexander Jun Wah Ting Lee, Aaron Talingting, John Mark Macapagal, Joyce Anne Tumang, Emmanuel Delos Reyes Landicho, Maria Feliza Gonzales, George S. Fernandez, and a certain “Mr. Ke.”
The “tapioca starch” shipment was exposed by Sen. Panfilo “Ping” M. Lacson in 2019.
The abandoned shipment of “tapioca starch” at the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) was auctioned in March 2019 and was bought by the winning bidder Goldwin Commercial.
However, the bidder reported to the BOC that the shipment from Cambodia contained methamphetamine hydrochloride, locally known as shabu, hidden inside aluminum pallets.
The PDEA reported that it confiscated 146 kilograms of shabu from the shipment.
However, Lacson pointed out that, prior the auction, the PDEA, BOC, and MICT conducted a joint inspection of the shipment based on information that it contained illegal drugs.
Lacson had suspected that PDEA, which tested samples from the shipment prior the auction, knew that the shipment contained illegal drugs but did not inform the BOC.
The NBI conducted its probe that led to the filing of the criminal complaints before the DOJ.